Recently I got the chance to catch up with Rachel Griffiths. Rachel and I have known each other since we both studied at Loughborough University. While I moved into the world of IT, Rachel worked in public relations and public affairs before co-founding Reputation Consultancy in 2010. Rachel also holds the Associate Certified Coach credential from the International Coaching Federation and it’s her work on reputation that drew my attention, not only for my professional interest in HR, but also as a contributor to SCN. You’ll see why …
Hi Rachel, thanks for talking to me today. I saw you recently writing about “personal reputation”, tell me more …
People and organisations understand that reputation is important and they’re often not sure exactly what it actually is. There are two realities around reputation; the first is that people are assessing you at any point in time, from colleagues to friends, potential bosses and clients. It is really quite a natural process and part of being human. The second reality is that everyone has a reputation and no one owns their own; they can simply influence it. Reputation cannot be faked. But manage it as an asset and you will have a greater impact, wherever you are. Welcome to your personal reputation; a rich and exciting ground for the contemporary professional!
So, clearly reputation is important but your point (and work) is really about trying to measure its importance and hence, I guess, value, right?
That’s right. For a company, the intangible asset of corporate reputation is estimated to account for a third of its market value. It is a precious and vulnerable asset that has traditionally been protected in times of crisis and protected through ‘risk’. Increasingly it is being viewed and valued as the asset that it is. Forward thinking organisations are beginning to manage it as an asset at board level as a differentiator. Understanding how they are being assessed and the reasons why at given point in time allows them to actively enhance their reputation among stakeholders, not only allowing them to prevent or predict risk, but to unleash a third of their market value and safeguard long term success. We work with global and UK based organisations who are serious about being around for the long term and who truly wish to serve all their stakeholders. Essentially we take their “reputation fingerprint”, allowing them to understand the emotion and behaviour of stakeholders that is giving them their current reputation. We then work with them to unleash their internal capability through reputation coaching across their organisational relationships, process and systems before designing significant communications that have the specific aim of reputation change.
I’m sure we can all relate to how a strong reputation (can I also say “brand”?) can help sell, but also how it can help grow a company in other ways (e.g. attracting talent). At a more individual level, how is “reputation” best explained?
Before I answer that, may I just offer some clarity on the terminology of “brand” and “reputation”? The two are quite different. Brand is the distinct attributes that the organisation wishes to portray, from their inside world to the stakeholders outside. Reputation is how all those with an interest in the organisation (the outside world) are assessing the organisation on many key qualities and strengths. Brand is simply one of seven reputation strengths on which an organisation is assessed, reputation is far broader so it is important not to confuse the two terms.
To an individual, personal reputation is just as valuable an asset and your ability to maximise it is often referred to as your ‘reputation capital’. Think of it as your contemporary, real-time curriculum vitae (or “resume’”). It changes by the day and the minute, each time you interact with others whether through face-to-face contact, via email, in social media or on the telephone. Unlike a CV, your reputation capital is anything but a retrospective, one-dimensional look at achievements accomplished; it is a living, 360-degree picture that indicates the person behind the achievements and provides clues as to your qualities, interests, values and personality.
In the same way organisations are no longer able to “fake” their reputation because of the connected world in which we live, individuals who enhance their reputation capital are those who absolutely understand what they are about, and both communicate and behave in a way that is consistent.
Stronger personal reputation for an individual ultimately allows them to be far more effective in their performance for many reasons, including more positive relationships, a clearer sense of purpose and the ability to have more impact both personally and professionally.
A lot of the contributors on SCN are very active in other ways through social media; I’m guessing this has had a big impact on people’s perception of someone’s reputation?
Absolutely. In this digital and connected world of online content and social media, never has personal reputation been more significant. Conversations, emotions, sentiments and values that you project unknowingly in everyday interactions are frequently mirrored online and available for all to view, thanks to our digital lifestyles and working practices.
The ultimate aim of personal reputation is transparency, to be seen and understood with integrity, and to remain open and responsive with total consistency.
Think about how commonplace it is now for individuals to “Google” each other before meeting in person. Each search reveals the reputation capital held by an incoming CEO, a prospective employee, a conference speaker or a potential new supplier at that moment in time and over the previous years. Blogs are an open invitation to others into your thoughts, views and interests; a LinkedIn profile is now virtually part of professional etiquette. All are contributing to your reputation capital.
Is there a risk here that a reputation can be “generated” in today’s social media world? Does it make it easier or is it just a quicker way and all the same qualities shine through?
I don’t think it’s a ‘risk’ Steve. The risk comes only if the reputation is ‘faked’ or ‘inauthentic’. Reputation can certainly be generated in social media and more broadly online. Without doubt it is a powerful space to shine and without doubt it is in the digital world where reputations are often played out and change very quickly. I was recently in a head of communications’ office when a very negative story broke. The head had the role of reporting to the board on the extent to which the story was having impact on the organisation. His approach, in terms of keeping up to speed, was not to wait for the morning’s papers to be published, but to listen to the online conversation. Social media was one powerful channel for this, as a careful and structured approach to “listening” showed up emotion and behaviour which offered some vital context at a time when the organisation needed to know how to respond appropriately.
As my example showed, social media is simply another powerful channel through which to establish, maintain and enhance your personal reputation. When you do choose to make use of all of the available channels (social media, telephone calls, face to face meetings, emails, etc.), that is when you can have the most significant impact on reputation.
So what qualities lead to a strong and positive “personal reputation”?
“Reputation” is a term increasingly used, yet rarely truly understood. Mistakenly referred to simply as “trust” or “personal brand”, it is not a single metric, but a combination of assessments about you from those who engage with you. Within those assessments it is the extent to which you are associated with a collection of qualities, strengths and attributes.
Those individuals considered to have a high level of reputation capital have six key qualities:
- Seen. They are visible in their role, being both confident and comfortable to show up as ‘who they are’ in ‘what they do’.
- Understood. They know what they value and what motivates them, and craft each interaction based on those principles. They take great care to make sure that their intentions and the motivations behind each of their communications are clearly understood by others.
- Different. They understand what their unique strengths are, how those strengths differ from those of others and they are able to project them for maximum effect.
- Open. They are transparent and authentic in their actions and behaviour, displaying high levels of honesty that serves to constantly build levels of trust. This creates safety for others to suggest, improve, comment or criticise.
- Consistent. Understanding their values, motivation and unique strengths, they effortlessly demonstrate consistency in the language, behaviours and tone that they use. Those who work with them can predict the nature of any interaction with them and often what the response may be.
- Responsive. They are quick and adept to respond to others in a suitable and appropriate manner.
These six qualities are as important offline as they are online.
I recognise those all as good qualities, some of which I know I could improve on myself. What about other highly regarded qualities such as leadership? Is it important that others perceive qualities like this in you?
Besides holding the above six qualities, those with strong reputational capital are perceived, by others, to display the following seven attributes:
- Lead. They are perceived as leading from ‘character’ and not from ‘coping’, from a place of purpose and possibility and not from one of fear and ego. Guided by openness and inclusion, they are able to create an ease of presence in which others can flourish.
- Create. They move things forward, suggesting and creating new ideas, proposals and thoughts that will always take things a step further in the collective aim.
- Belong. They display a strong sense of belonging and loyalty to a task or cause that is bigger than themselves, for example, their team, their organisation or their project.
- Care. They are perceived to be fair and caring, with an unfailing ability to hold others in unconditional positive regard. Often with a highly developed level of emotional intelligence, they are able to consider the position of others and empathise with them.
- Perform. Committed to the cause, they are strongly associated with ongoing success. Individuals can rely on the fact that they will gather all the collective strength of others in order to achieve the shared objective.
- Deliver. In every personal interaction with others and in each task, they consistently not just meet, but exceed expectations that others may have of them.
- Steward. They unfailingly do the right thing (for the long term benefit of the organisation, but in line with their personal values) and consider the longer-term effect.
You said at the start that we can’t own our personal reputation and “controlling” feels like the wrong word to use. How would you describe the relationship with your personal reputation – is “influencing” a better word to use?
Yes. Remembering that you do not own your personal reputation, an individual can influence it through their behaviours and interactions with others. Getting conscious and intentional about how you choose to behave and interact is a really effective way of enhancing your personal reputation through stronger relationships with others. Understanding exactly who is having the greatest influence on your reputation is also a key step to enhancing it. From the individuals and teams with whom you interact to your social media channels, there are people, channels and content that can influence your reputation.
So, in that regard, and given where I am posting this, a good example is SCN itself. Are communities generally a good place to influence your reputation?
Absolutely. Those communities are a channel for your personal reputation. Choosing which of those communities you are seen in, how you are understood within them, what you want to bring that is different are all part of it. As long as you are consistent in what you do, this will help people make a consistent assessment of you and (assuming you are interacting in a positive way) will enhance your reputation.
So, now the killer question … what can each of us do to enhance our personal reputation?
The answer is actually quite simple and offers those reading this a very real opportunity of getting where they want to be with more ease. Personal reputation is about conscious choice. Knowing what is important to you and choosing to behave in a way that is true to that. You know when you have it right because it feels easy and good.
Begin by looking at the strengths and qualities that we talked about a minute a go and do an honest appraisal of which of those are both important to you and those that present an opportunity or area of focus for you. Then ask yourself four questions.
- What is my current reputation? Begin by discovering the current reputation you hold. Choose five people from different areas of your life and ask them what you should ‘start’, ‘stop’ and ‘keep’ doing.
- What is the reputation I aspire to have? Understand what your values and motivations are and what is really important to you, then begin to explore where you do and don’t demonstrate these values, and why. Check that your values and motivations are showing up consistently in the way you are seen in person, online and across social media. Where are you inconsistent?
- What do I want to change? What will stop me? We all have negative voices that prevent us from behaving how we really want to behave. Get to know what triggers those voices, the impact of them and learn how to ignore them. Know what you want to change and begin to introduce everyday practices.
- What qualities and strengths need most work? Simply becoming aware of, and beginning to employ, some of the reputational qualities and strengths that are outlined above is a good starting point.
In the HCM world we constantly hear (and say!) “People are a company’s greatest asset”, so how important is it to a company to have employees with strong personal reputations?
That is a very easy question to answer Steve. Vitally important and this is why. People being a company’s greatest asset has never been truer than it is today. Strong reputations are dependent on an organisation’s external reputation being aligned with their internal reputation. Remember that nothing can be faked; the organisation has to “be” what it tells the outside world it “is”. Having staff who are clear about their personal reputations and who act, work and behave in a way that is aligned to them, both personally and professionally, simply unleashes an organisation’s entire reputation capability. Talent attraction and talent retention are just two of the many benefits such alignment brings.
In a nutshell, an organisation with staff that has enhanced personal reputations will benefit from stronger internal relationships, greater levels of innovation and ultimately secured, long term success.
And what can a company do about it?
Technology means an organisation can be better equipped to listen and so can develop a greater level of understanding. Our Reputation Tracker allows organisations to see and understand their current reputation and analyse it up to five years retrospectively. That brings all sorts of new intelligence to the organisation.
Once an organisation has listened and understands its current reputation it can work internally to unleash all the reputation capability it already holds so that it is able to understand how and where to influence reputation from the inside, out.
When this happens, and it is aligned with organisation’s strategy, the whole organisation becomes more effective at its very reason for being and its impact on both its internal world and the external world becomes greater. I think we’ll see reputation forming a significant element of a CxO’s performance targets in the next 2-5 years.
Thanks Rachel, great to speak to you today and I appreciate you taking the time to share your views for the SCN community.
You are very welcome Steve. We’re really passionate about personal reputation and the impact it has on an individual and the broader organisation. It’s been nice talking to you and no doubt see you again soon, in person and on Facebook!
Rachel Griffiths is partner at Reputation Consultancy, an associate certified coach specialising in leadership and reputation, and an organisational and relationship systems coach. Rachel has spoken at international conferences and been interviewed by both Sky News and The Guardian.